Underweight Models

By Lauren Reisig, JWI Intern

Associated Fabrication, “Zaha Cirrus in Vogue” August 23, 2009 via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution.

The fashion industry prides itself on being the pinnacle of beauty, and they dictate the modern standards of beauty to which women and girls around the world aspire.

When tan was beautiful, city streets became a parade of orange women. When straight hair was the desired style, women flat ironed their beautiful curls into submission. (Guilty.) When ultra low became the default rise for jeans, “muffin top” entered the vernacular, and thongs regularly saw the light of day.  Luckily, as with all fads, these trends have come and gone, making way for new styles that we will one day look back on and utter the familiar phrase, “What was I thinking?”

Remarkably, the only constant in the ever evolving fashion industry is the one aspect that truly needs to change: the emaciated model. Fashion is a multi-billion dollar industry, and yet some models look like they should be featured in an advertisement showcasing malnutrition in third world countries, not high fashion designs.

The topic of underweight models is nothing new. It is an issue that makes international headlines year in and year out. Whenever a model shocks the world with a skeletal appearance, or worse, succumbs to an eating disorder, there is a call to action for the fashion industry to take aim at underweight models whose gaunt figures are perpetuating unhealthy and unrealistic standards of beauty. Most fashion magnates and magazines concede the problem and vow to change their standards for models. However, after the initial uproar dies down, the fashion industry quietly returns to the status quo.

Fed up with this cycle, Israel passed legislation in March issuing a ban on the use of underweight fashion models in Israeli advertising. Models must now submit a medical report confirming they have a body mass index of at least 18.5 (below which an individual is considered to be malnourished) in order to be certified to work.

Earlier this week, Vogue announced a similar, albeit less stringent, measure. In a cooperative effort, the 19 editors of Vogue magazines across the globe entered into a pact to “not knowingly work with models under the age of 16 or who appear to have an eating disorder.”

Will Vogue’s vaguely worded pact be the necessary catalyst to finally eliminate malnourished models from the fashion world?  Or is Vogue’s ability to truly make a difference as slim as the models in their magazines?

As with everything in fashion, only time will tell.

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